Rejoinder to election day blues

3 November 2020

by Ken Sehested

Anxiety is loose in the land here in the US; and abroad as well, since our nation’s cravings reach around the globe.

Today’s polling deadline—whose results will likely not be determined before the bewitching hour of midnight—may very well lead to the donning of sackcloth and ashes for many.

The predictions on the outcome run the gamut from a landslide for Biden to a narrow electoral college win, despite another loss in the popular vote, for Donald Trump.

I urge you to consider that more is at work than what is obvious.

Which is not to say I am sanguine about the outcome. I well remember, four years ago, making morning coffee as I heard from NPR the unexpected outcome of Trump’s win. I put my hands on the kitchen counter as tears welled in my eyes, my mind reeling with a speedy accounting of all who would suffer this monumental blunder.

All things considered, we as a nation are lucky that more damage has not been done, given the catastrophic potential of four years of this amoral, maniacal, self-obsessed man who has turned the White House into a political brothel. But the damage is real, and will likely take a generation or more to repair, even if he is evicted from office. There will still be much grief to attend.

And if he is not?

I say, even still, that is no counsel to despair. History has suffered more. People of faith and conscience are a sturdy bunch; and, in fact, have shone most brightly while on the run from authorities.

The very fact that the electoral turnout will likely be historic is reason enough to be thankful, even should Trump prevail. The history of nonviolent resistance to tyranny is rich and textured. Truth has often been on the scaffold while wrong is on the throne. “Yet the scaffold sways the future, behind the dim unknown” (James Lowell Russell, channeled by Martin Luther King Jr.).

Whatever the case may be in the aftermath of this present tumult—whoever stands before the crowds in January’s inauguration ceremony—there is still much grief to attend.

We as a people are poorly trained to handle grief. We have been suckled on the “power of positive thinking” gospel; of “accentuate the positive” counsel; of “look on the bright side” prescription.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America, provides a careful biopsy of our cheery habits of mind which leave us ill equipped to face moments when love does not win, when an-apple-a-day does not keep the doctor away.

Let me say this as resolutely, and carefully, as possible: Grief is the place where we generate the prospect of joy. It is the introit to the only reliable threshold of hope. Joy is more enduring than happiness, and hope is more sustainable than optimism.

As the Prophet Isaiah wrote about the Suffering Servant—which the Christian community links with the narrative of Jesus—“He was . . . acquainted with grief.”

I confess I do not understand why life typically begins with a newborn’s bloody scream, or why voluntary suffering may inaugurate redemptive effect. But I have seen it enough to lean the small weight of my conviction into its promise. As the blind man healed was grilled by the religious authorities (John 9)—demanding “how did this happen?”—the man said “I don’t know; all I know is that I was blind and now I can see.”

People of The Way do not make calculated decisions to stare into suffering’s countenance because we are masochists responding to the prescriptions of a sadistic deity. We do so because we sense the vision of a very different future unfolds exactly in those places that are cracked and broken and deformed. We do so not because we are heroic or stoic or full of romantic gushing. We do so to listen intently to that Voice effectively suppressed in a world where wealth and power and prestige hold sway.

“There’s a crack in everything,” sings Leonard Cohen. “That’s how the light gets in.”

We do of course cry out and echo the ancient psalmists and prophets at the intersection of suffering and despair, “How long, O Lord, how long?” We return again and again to the cliff’s apparent edge of destruction, and we do so without money-back guarantees.

We do so because we have fallen, head-over-heels, in love with the vision of the Beloved Community, of the promised day when all tears will be dried and death itself will come undone. Of the time when, as Isaiah proclaims, “. . . all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God” (52:10).

On that day, the barren ones will burst into song, “for the children of the desolate woman” will multiply. And all shall hear the voice from beyond all human management, “Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed . . . for you will not be disgraced. . . . In righteousness you shall be established, far from oppression . . . far from terror. . . . This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord” (Isaiah 54).

Beloveds, let this be your rejoinder to election day blues; let these assurances buoy you amid this present tempest.

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